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No Government Response to the Plight of Domestic Workers

by Shirlie Rodriguez

Photos: Plaza Pública

Unregulated work schedules, uncertain salaries and unsafe conditions make up the everyday environment for most women and men who dedicate their lives to working in private residences.

More than 32,000 Guatemalans work in such residences, yet the Guatemalan government ignores ratifying Agreement Num. 189 which establishes rights and basic principles creating decent conditions for domestic workers.  It spells out that women workers in private residences can not be placed in forced labor, similarly it establishes protections which include rest breaks, compensation for additional work and paid vacation.  For more than 10 years governments have avoided giving attention to the topic.

Guatemalan codes governing labor direct that domestic work is specific and separate from other employment such as agriculture, telecommuting and other jobs.  Until December 16, 2022, the pay rate for these types of jobs was Q 3,075.10 monthly (or $ 410/mo. approximately).  But domestic workers in private residences, falling into a separate category, are not paid that much in wages.

Reports from organizations that support the domestic workers’ rights say that wages are often late, without guaranteed regularity, without set monthly paydays or are paid in clothing, food, and other things.

Photo: Plaza Pública

The Association of Domestic Workers, Telecommuters and Factory Workers (ATRAHDOM) reports that women in these jobs are exposed to inhumane conditions and treatment.  For example, instances have surfaced where women workers could not leave the residence where they were employed, remaining in the workplace the entire day.

Guatemalan codes recognize 10 hours daily for rest, as well as weekends off and paid vacation time, but none of that is reflected in the real lives of workers.

Maritza Velasquez, coordinator of ATRAHDOM, says that domestic work is one of the most exploitative, where labor rights, even human rights, are most often violated because of the working conditions for many of the women and the way their employers treat them.  The Association has followed cases and provided legal representation against employers guilty of wage theft, physical aggressiveness, psychological and sexual harassment.

Some of ATRAHDOM’s cases, reaching courts for labor disputes, have gone as far as the Magistrate’s courts.  These cases have helped other women win their cases, as well as having provided solidarity with other victims of mistreatment in the workplace.

Guatemala’s Institute for Social Security (IGSS) has a system which looks to protect this sector of women workers, but it has minimal staff directing the protective measures offered by the agency.

In this country there are more than 320,000 individuals who provide domestic services.  According to 2021 data only 324 are registered in the special program, PRECAPI, for protection of workers employed in private homes.  Within this group settlements equal about 321.54 Quetzales every three months, but most domestic workers employed in private residences are not covered by this protection.  (approximately $43 quarterly)

Despite these precarious work conditions, the National Congress remained at a standstill regarding legislation that would create governmental guarantees of better living and employment conditions for this sector of the population.

The ages of those doing such work fluctuates between 45 and 65 years old.  According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE) there are organizations looking to ensure social security for them when they can no longer continue to work.

Shirley Rodriguez is a journalist and recipient of the IWMF More Inclusive Scholarship, the Gabo Foundation for Journalistic Solutions, and a member of the LATAM Network of Young Journalist from Other Latitudes.  Co-Founder of the Allied Project, an initiative for local journalism.